Thursday, December 16, 2010

Twilight: Eclipse

This is the third Twilight movie in the series. If you're a Twifan, I don't need to tell you that. If you're not, you don't care.

I haven't read the books, which is a major disadvantage. It's like trying to tell what's going on in the Harry Potter movies, at least the latter three, without having read the books; the difference is that the HP series has a masterful screenwriter. The Twilight screenplay isn't nearly as good a summation, and we're treated to snippets of dialogue that supposedly explain all the different type of weird people and goings-on. It doesn't.

In part two, we were introduced to Jacob the werewolf, not just Jacob the Bella suitor. Jacob is pressing the issue in #3, and Bella is clearly attracted to him. But Bella made a promise to Edward, that, upon her graduation, she would... Well, that would be spoiling things. But suffice to say it's not sex, to the great relief of her father (boy, is he clueless here).

In general, the movie is static, doesn't move, except for some brief fight scenes toward the end. Oh, I should tell you that young vampires are fierce and can't control themselves -- about the only thing interesting happening here. Otherwise, it's the characters emoting at each other, and that just gets boring.

Except for the fine acting of the main three actors, there's really no reason to see this. Or number 4 or number 5....

Thumb's down.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

I went with a friend of mine to see the latest Chronicles of Narnia, the third installment. I neglected, however, to ask her if she'd seen the other two. She hadn't.

The older of the two Pevensie children have been shipped off to America while the younger -- Lucy and Edmund -- are the ones who are whisked off to Narnia for this adventure. However, this time, an unwilling cousin, Eustace, is whisked off, too. Kicking and screaming.

They fall into a Narnian ocean and are picked up by the Dawn Treader, part cruise ship, part attack vessel, upon which we find King (once Prince) Caspian, a more confident leader than in part two when we met him. The four plus crew sail away to find seven missing kings, each of whom possess a magical sword. But to find them, they have to go through a green mist which tempts each sailor with what he or she most wants.

Yes, it's confusing, but I didn't mind at all because I got to meet a sea-going minotaur, a chivalrous mouse, and a rather large and angry sea serpent. The effects are better in this movie than especially the first because, let's face it, it's five years later. And the actors look a bit older and are better actors.

It's a great adventure on the high seas. And, after three movies, you feel you know these characters, particularly when you see what the green mist has in store for each of them. My only criticism -- okay, I have a couple -- is that there's nothing for the audience to solve. There are no puzzles. We just follow them along on their adventure. I've always found the adventure more fun if I can participate, but perhaps the screenwriter didn't want to stray too far from C.S. Lewis.

But that presents another problem. The dialogue seems to be right out of the book, and Lewis is famous for using platitudes. The dialogue is not very challenging.

And when we finally meet up with Aslan, he is much more the Christ figure here, complete with a place not named but obviously heaven. That was disturbing.

But if you can enjoy the movie as a great adventure with characters you've come to enjoy and like, you'll really like this movie. The story was told well enough that my friend figured out the missing parts quickly enough, and held on for the ride.

Thumb's up!


I don't make it a habit to see all of Denzel Washington's films. Some of them are too depressing-looking for me. But when Washington is onboard, you know there's a level of competent acting, regardless of what shape the screenplay is in.

Unstoppable is based on a true story when a rail train breaks free and plummets unmanned down the track. The true story happened in 2001, and while many things have been changed about the story -- including the insertion of Denzel Washington -- the basic story line is true. Which is fascinating.

Washington plays Frank, a guy who's been on trains for 28 years. He's a veteran nearing retirement. Up comes young train guy Will -- with 4 whole months of training -- played by Chris Pine (of James T. Kirk Star Trek fame) -- a guy who has some problems of his own. The long unfurling of the story allows for Frank and Will to get to know one another and hear each other's story.

I found the movie quite exciting -- at least the last 15 minutes of the movie. However, while we were waiting for the denouement, we were entertained by Washington, Pike, and Michele Rodriguez, who plays a station manager. Thanks to Rodriguez and her battle with corporate guys who don't know much about trains (the company's name was fictionalized in the movie), we weren't bored.

It's a predictable storyline without much to break up the monotony except for these 3 and other fine supporting actors. But it's a good action story and quite entertaining.

Thumb's up.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt 1

If you wandered in off the street to see this movie, or if your spouse or significant other insisted you see this movie with them yet you hadn't read the books or seen the other movies, well, you will be as mystified as if Hermione laid a memory spell on you. You'll have no idea what a horcrux is, or why those three bright young students are looking for them.

But for those of us who have read all the books, including the last one, this first half of the last part of the tale will be quite compelling.

Of course, this part of the story has to do with (1) Keeping Harry Potter safe, often at quite a sacrifice, and (2) Finding those Horcruxes, parts of Voldemort's soul that he's spread all around in ordinary objects. There is no Dumbledore to help Harry, Hermione and Ron, as Dumbledore died last time around, and there are few adults around to even offer sage advice. The three are, pretty much throughout the movie, alone. And the movie is so skillfully done that you feel their isolation quite palpably.

What's wonderful about the movie is that, even though you know there are literally chunks of the book left out, there are lingering moments in fulfilling relationships. There are some lovely, slow moments between Harry and Hermione, especially, when each feels that the other backs them up, has a love for the other that is more trust than physical. And these moments, some of which were never written by J.K. Rowling, sum up their feelings for each other.

I have talked with several movie-goers who believe that this movie does not stand on its own. I believe the movie establishes what Harry (and Hermione and Ron) are up against, and the loneliness and pain that comes with that. The movie achieves that very well. And we all eagerly await Part 2, coming in July 2011.

Thumb's up.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

If you're thinking "Mickey Mouse and all those dancing brooms" from Fantasia when you see the title of this film, think again. Oh, sure, there are about 10 seconds of film time when we do see many mops and brooms creating havoc in Dave's laboratory, but that's not the thrust of this movie. But if you blink, you'll miss the actual plot of The Sorcerer's Apprentice, which is wafer-thin.

Dave (Jay Baruchel) is a nerd, always has been, and had a chance to make the winsome Becky his girlfriend except that he blew it at age 10, and figures his life has been a big Nothing since then. Except that he wandered into Bathazar's curio shop and found a real, live wizard (Nicolas Cage) who is doing big-time battle with recent escapee evil-guy Horvath (Alfred Molina). We shoot forward 10 years later, when Balthazar hooks up again with Dave, and seeks his new apprentice's help in combatting Horvath.

The movie isn't terribly compelling, save for its memorable Big Three cast -- Cage, Baruchel and Molina -- but even they can't breathe life into this sodden story. Personality goes a long way, and the film is better for it, but halfway through the third or fifth battle, you can't for the life of you remember why you're there in the first place. There are many good effects along the way -- the live dragon, for one, dazzles -- but that's never a good enough reason to hang on.

There is one thing I liked about the story, and that is that Dave finds a way to help Balthazar fight old and powerful wizards through his own knowledge of science. I thought that was a nice way to add our Everyman into a fight he couldn't win, and yet let us believe he had useful skills.

There are some interesting things about this movie, but on the whole, it's a disappointment. Thumb's down.

Thursday, December 02, 2010


Tangled is Disney's new movie about the obscure Rapunzel legend. The story seems to have some twists and turns, although nothing earthshaking, but I have no idea whether it sticks to the Rapunzel legend or not.

Surely the main and secondary characters do not. Rapunzel is the daughter of the king and queen, but is stolen from them and hidden away in a castle by a woman who uses Rapunzel's magical hair to keep her young. The rest of the adventure is how Rapunzel uses a charismatic thief to disobey her "mother" and see up close the floating lights that occur on her birthday every year.

I really wanted to like this movie, but I was bored rather quickly. The beginning, the set-up, takes quite a bit of time. We're introduced to the king and queen, to Rapunzel and the woman masquerading as her mother, to the bandit Flynn Ryder. We're also introduced to Rapunzel's pet chameleon and to the horse who decides he should be hunting a thief. In truth, those animal characters are much better drawn, much more charismatic, watchable and funny, than the main characters. And the action, and there's quite a bit of it, is staggered with long periods of dialogue.

I must admit that I kept wondering why Mother Gothel, Rapunzel's dastardly fill-in mother, didn't change Rapunzel's name, or at least the date of her birth. I mean, why set yourself up for problems some 18 years later? I did enjoy Donna Murphy's voicework re: this character: it helped make the woman human, not so evil, but always with an edge to each sentence spoken.

I did not enjoy the movie very much, but there are certainly movie-goers, probably younger ones, who will really love it.

But for me, thumb's down.